You may have heard that just a couple weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a revised version of their Health Initiative regarding children and media. It comes at a time when children are being introduced to personal media devices at a younger age than ever, using them not only for schoolwork and to play, but as an legitimate form of communication. In years past, the AAP and other health organizations have stated unequivocally that children under the age of 12 should have extremely limited screen time, with absolutely no hand-held devices being used whatsoever. Their revision, however, takes into account that this is no longer a reasonable or realistic standard for families with young children. It goes beyond just plopping your kid in front of the TV when they are bored, it's become a way of life that kids need to be exposed to in reasonable amounts, and taught how to use responsibly.
Every family has to decide what is best for them in terms of TV, computer, and smartphone exposure. So many factors go in to figuring out what works best for each individual. Here's my opinion based on what I know from my own experiences with kids of different ages, different families, and different parenting techniques: Without a shadow of a doubt, children under the age of two should not have access to screens of any kind. Across the board, I have seen the difference between small babies and kids who do have access to screens vs. kids who do not. The brain development that is crucial at this stage in babies' and toddler's lives is very easily affected by screen time. It affects their attention spans, their behavior, their socialization, and so much more. There is just no good reason to show a baby a movie, even if it buys you five minutes of relaxation time. Those Baby Einstein videos were debunked years ago as not having any positive influence on kids at all. I can't stress enough how stark the difference is between toddlers who are allowed access to screens and those who aren't. I'll get up on my high horse with this one, because I've seen firsthand how important it is to protect your little bunny's brain when it's just starting to grow.
As kids get older, not only can it be beneficial for kids to watch movies, shows, and occasionally check out the internet, but it helps them develop their own "kid culture," which is important in their own socialization. I'm not saying plop them in front of the TV, I know you know that's not what I think. But the occasional movie, show or online video can actually help them feel connected to the world, enrich them artistically, and (best one) give you a chance to relax. I'm not a huge fan of current kid's shows, but you just can't go wrong with some classic Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street every once in a while! And some of my earliest and happiest memories are of being cozy at my grandparents' house, watching The Sound of Music or Royal Wedding while Christmas dinner was being whipped up. It's definitely a way for families to bond and share time together. I personally cannot WAIT to watch The Princess Bride with my own future kids, it's such a sweet way of showing your little ones the cultural touchstones that are important in your own life.
In regards to the internet, it's hard to deny that it's become an important mode of communication for all of us, and to cut children off entirely from it is not only unrealistic, but wrong. Kids need to know how to navigate the internet safely, how to find what they need without stumbling into the darker corners, and how to communicate with others in a healthy way. This is obviously done by monitoring them, and instilling values within them even before they ever sit down in front of a computer. I can't imagine how horrifying it would be to discover that your own child is an internet bully, can you?
Starting small, being present, and monitoring content is the best way to introduce your kids to healthy internet use. (Same goes for watching TV!) I remember thinking it was ridiculous that we didn't have MTV at my house, so I would sneak-watch it at my friend Haley's house whenever possible. Rest assured, kids are going to test their boundaries with everything, internet and TV included, and break the occasional rules. But you have to set them in order to set a standard of safety, because ultimately they will know better. As with everything, it's all fine in moderation, but it's important to make sure it doesn't interfere with actual face-to-face time with other people. Just because a child is small does not mean they need to sit at a restaurant holding an iPad to keep the peace. Kids should learn at a young age how to behave while in public, and if they don't behave well, they don't get to go out! Simple as that!
What's your policy on screen-time in your house? We were allowed to watch Jeopardy while my mom cooked dinner on weekdays, but that was about it until we were older. I've had to spend my adult years catching up on My So-Called Life because I couldn't when I was a kid.